“You’d better not slow us down,” Darrell Olson barked at me between clenched teeth when he heard that I, a guy who rarely breaks 100 on the golf course, was joining his elite group for the 17th annual Joe Richer Junior Golf Tournament.
Talk about putting pressure on me.
But I’m used to that from coach Olson.
I’ve known Olson, 60, for years and I know that having him grimace and growl a declarative statement in your direction is akin to getting a hug from Amma, the woman who has embraced more than 20 million people all over the globe.
And since it’s not very often I get to “showcase” my developing golf game, I was willing to endure Olson’s invective.
Plus, by joining these guys, I was coming full circle.
For a little perspective, let’s go back 16 years. Back then, a 17-year-old boy stepped to the tee in front of numerous city dignitaries to send the ceremonial first ball down the newly renovated Legion Memorial fairway and kick off the tournament named after his father, Joe Richer, who had died much too young — at the age of 55 — a couple of months earlier.
Showing poise beyond his years, John Richer calmly sent the ball 250-plus yards straight down the middle of the fairway.
And with that, the young man cemented his dad’s legacy and set in motion the foundation for his own.
Today, John Richer is the head boys’ basketball coach at Everett High School, just as his father was in the 1970s and 1980s.
And this is where I fast forward to Aug. 2.
Joining Olson’s foursome that day was comfortable because we all have a history going back to when Joe Richer was alive in more than just spirit.
The group included John Richer, now 33, who played basketball at Everett High when I coached there with Olson and Roger Haug, another member of this group. Back then, Mark Richer, 64, the brother of Joe Richer and final member of our group, often was seen in the stands cheering on his nephew as John helped lead the Seagulls to the state basketball tournament three times.
So I viewed that Saturday’s foursome as somewhat of a fraternity, where I felt fortunate to have been invited along as merely a wide-eyed pledge.
At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel the tug of nostalgia playing with this group that had won the Joe Richer Golf Tournament, which features 36 foursomes, three times in the previous 16 years.
There would not be a fourth win this year.
As happens in scramble golf, putting is the key to victory. This foursome relies primarily on the steady nerves of John Richer, a scratch golfer who has finished as high as third in the Snohomish County Amateur and a four-year golf letterman at Western Washington University, and Olson, the coach who took over the golf program at Everett High following Joe Richer’s death.
It’s obvious that John Richer and Olson have a special relationship. It may be partly because Olson was the head coach for both the boys’ basketball and golf programs during Richer’s senior year, that critical year following his father’s death. That year John Richer was the captain of both teams. He finished third in the state golf tournament and led the basketball team to the state tournament.
Out on the links of Legion Memorial, the two were constantly talking scramble strategy while enjoying cigars and beverages together as they toured around in the same golf cart. Combine that with the mentoring that is obviously taking place for the young Richer as he begins his third season at the helm of the resurgent Everett High boys’ basketball program, and one can’t help but notice something special developing.
And, except for a tough stretch from No. 13 on, they’re both solid closers. In fact, on No. 18, after a handful of disappointing, uncharacteristic near-missed putts, Olson loudly exclaimed, “Are you kidding me?”
It was just one of those days.
As for my game in this scramble format? I was simply along for the shear enjoyment of playing quality golf with some top-notch players. Since I was an interloper in this elite group where just four balls are considered for a scramble score, my shots were strictly for exhibition. But I noticed by the sixth hole that I was stepping up my game.
That happens when one soars with eagles. Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot any eagles in this tournament, so we were non-factors in the final standings. But that is somewhat immaterial.
Personally, I felt a surge of accomplishment knowing that I hadn’t slowed down play. Of course, I still didn’t expect a compliment from coach Olson.